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James Hill | | May 20, 2015

Nothing like the first time

  Vanderbilt defeated UCLA 4-2 to win the school's first tennis championship.

WACO, Texas -- The Vanderbilt Commodores wrestled the NCAA Division I Women's Tennis Championship from the UCLA Bruins with a hard-fought 4-2 victory Tuesday night at Baylor's Hurd Tennis Center.

Vanderbilt (25-6), the tournament's No. 4 seed, won its first NCAA title. In fact, the only other time the Commodores made the final was in 2001, when they lost 4-0 to Stanford. Seventh-seeded UCLA (23-5) has won two championships -- last year and in 2008 -- and appeared in its ninth finals matchup.

"The seniors on that team have been to four straight final fours," Vanderbilt coach Geoff Macdonald said of the Bruins. "We were in new water for us. I have to say, hats off to my team for handling an incredibly large moment, with class, guts, and great spirit. It's a dream come true. It's such an elusive, difficult thing to accomplish."

The dual-match on Tuesday was also a "spirited" affair, on and off the court. There were officials' warnings to the crowd, and point penalties assessed against players. But that did not detract from the passionate play of the Commodores and Bruins.

Vanderbilt took a 1-0 lead by winning two of three doubles, in particular the No. 3 line played by Marie Casares and Frances Altick. Of the five singles matches which were completed, one was a three-setter, and three others involved tiebreakers.

The clincher came at No. 2 singles as red-shirt freshman Astra Sharma won 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 against Chanelle Van Nguyen. Sharma, from Perth, Australia, also clinched the 4-0 semifinals shutout of top-seeded Southern California.

"There are so many opportunities for us for the future," said Sharma, who was named the Tournament Most Outstanding Player. "I just think the work ethic and discipline of this team is amazing. We know now what it takes to win a national championship. I think next year, we will be just as good."

One senior player who won't be on the team -- but will work as an engineer in Vanderbilt's home city, Nashville -- is Casares. While the battle was raging on the farther courts, Casares was engaged in a tight No. 6 match with Kaitlin Ray. The score was tied at 3-all in the third set when the Commodores clinched the title

"I hope that young players see Vanderbilt as a great institution to go to," Casares said. "It's a phenomenal institution because of location, athletics, and academics. I think the combination is just wonderful."

UCLA also had some solid moments in the tournament, particularly when the Bruins defeated last year's runner-up North Carolina 4-1 in the quarterfinals. Last year, UCLA beat the Tar Heels 4-3 in the championship tilt at Athens, Georgia. The Bruins also took out Georgia 4-1 in this year's semifinals.

"I knew that Vanderbilt was going to be a tough team," UCLA coach Stella Sampras Webster said. "I had no idea how tough because we'd never played them. We fought really hard to stay in it and came out a little short. We had our best team out there, and they were just able to be a little more consistent than us."

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